New laws threaten online ‘havoc’

Brussels chiefs are planning to update European data protection laws early in the new year in a move which, according to one source, is likely to “wreak havoc” among the online powerhouses of social media and search.
The current Data Protection Directive dates from 1995 and proposals for the new directive are to be presented in January 2012. EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding and German Federal Minister for Consumer Protection Ilse Aigner met in Brussels this week to draw up the plans.
A joint statement reads: “EU law should require that consumers give their explicit consent before their data are used. And consumers generally should have the right to delete their data at any time, especially the data they post on the internet themselves.
“We both believe that companies who direct their services to European consumers should be subject to EU data protection laws. Otherwise, they should not be able to do business on our internal market. This also applies to social networks with users in the EU.”
EU law will be enforced even if the company is based in a third country and has its data centres outside the EU, the statement reaffirmed.
This will put the European Commission on a collision course with many of the online world’s most powerful companies. Facebook, for instance, has already run into trouble after it was discovered the company retains users’ personal information long after their accounts are closed. Meanwhile Google and other search engines rarely – if ever – gain a user’s ‘explicit consent’ before using their data.
One source said: “Some people will dismiss this as political posturing – after all, Facebook and Google have hardly been ‘making friends and influencing people’ in Brussels of late.
“It won’t happen overnight – nothing does in the EU – but this is potentially very serious. It could wreak havoc for online search and social networks and force a major rethink of both.”

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